While the field of cross-cultural psychology has a moderately long history a major and rapid expansion in research has occurred over the last decades due to the opportunities derived from globalization and increased contacts between peoples of different regions and cultures. Many would agree that cultural diversity in all its ramifications is one of the largest challenges in a world that is increasingly integrated economically and in communication. Unfortunately along with increased contacts we have also observed more cultural or ethnic strife facilitated by differences in religious or ancestral myths. Together these events have increased an interest in cross-cultural psychology both from theoretical aspects but also from the perspective of practical applications. Journals devoted specifically to cross-cultural research like the Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology have been published for over several decades. Likewise the major journals of social psychology have published an increasing number of research articles focusing on cultural contributions to behavior and cross-cultural comparative research. While psychologists in the past often thought that their theories were applicable universally, there is now a more cautious and humble recognition that behavior is mediated by cultural values.
Cross-cultural psychology is a comparative research approach that examines the parameters of psychological variables from varying cultural perspectives. However, whatever is learned in a field of study is framed and limited by our research methods. Without comparative or cultural analysis we would learn nothing about differences and similarities between people of varying cultures. Cross-cultural psychology is defined as a comparative discipline studying the cultural factors that influence or determine behavior. The comparative method require the inclusion of participants from more than one cultural group and compare psychological assessments for observed similarities and differences. This definition requires an analytical ability on the part of the researcher to determine what matters in behavior from that which is trivial or insignificant. In this process we seek to establish the relationship between norms and values in behavior and how these differ in various cultural groups. Some researchers have focused on interactions between participants from different cultures and how these contacts have produced enduring or transitory traits in groups. For example the crusades brought together Christian and Muslim warriors under violent conditions, and even though this contact occurred many centuries ago the real or mythological effects of these interactions affect attitudes in the Arab world today.
1.1 Behavior as culture specific or universal.
Common sense and travelling experience tell us that we have much more in common with members of even the most discrepant cultures than our differences (e.g. Schmitt, Allik, McCrae, & Benet-Martinez, 2007). We share with all peoples a common genetic heritage, and share with many cultures a more recent ancestor and a common geneographic journey. These common human factors has led to deep structured universal behavioral responses that all peoples in the world would recognize as human such as nurturing and protecting children and cherishing the family unit. Universals refer to behavior and antecedents that are common to many and perhaps all cultures in the world (Berry, Poortinga, Segall, Dassen, 1992). Others have found important similarities in the structure of personality in varying countries studied including the Big Five (neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (McCrae & Costa, 1997; Costa & McCrae, Terracciano, & McCrae, 2001; Schmitt et al, 2007).
Berry et al advocated a global psychology that eventually would be achieved by integrating knowledge from major cultural research contributions, although they also recognized the wide variations in how these universals are displayed in behavior. Yang (2000) argued that even psychology that is developed indigenously in individual cultures (emic) will collectively serve the long term purpose of developing a balanced global psychology.
Berry et al discussed three orientations in cross-cultural psychology. Absolutism is the perspective that people are essentially the same everywhere and that psychological phenomenon is not affected by culture. Basic human qualities like honesty or decency have the same connotation and culture contributes little to the underlying meaning of psychological constructs. This perspective comes from naïve cross-cultural experiences that recognize what all human beings have in common regardless of varying cultures. Therefore from the perspective of absolutism psychological testing and experimentation just requires accurate translations. On the other hand relativism is the perspective that all human behavior is conditioned by culture and we will never understand the deeper meanings of behavior except by evaluating the cultural context. A major motivator in relativism is to avoid the error of psychological ethnocentrism by trying to understand indigenous values and context. Psychological testing must therefore not only be accurate in translation but must also be made from valid conceptual comparisons. However, since meeting such criteria are never or rarely possible few cross-cultural comparisons can be made. The third perspective is universalism that is found somewhat midway between the other two orientations. Universalism contends that basic psychological phenomenon is common to all members of the human species, but the development and manifestations of behavior are culture dependent. In the universal perspective psychological assessments must take into account the underlying cultural processes and produce culturally relevant versions. Although Berry et al defended the distinctiveness of these three conceptions others generally recognize only universalism (etic) found in cross-cultural research and absolutism (emic) rooted in indigenous approaches in studying psychological phenomenon. Berry et al argued in favor of universalism since it accepts the role of culture in producing diversity in behavior, while acknowledging basic psychological phenomenon as common features of our human species.